About four years ago, Paul Thomas wanted to give Baltimoreans more options for a night out. He wanted to open a nightclub, but residents in Mount Vernon, where he wanted to be, objected, so instead he launched his first restaurant, The CIVIL, on North Charles Street.
He didn’t stop with The CIVIL. He established EDR Eat.Drink.Relax. last year, also in Mount Vernon, but on Cathedral Street. The nearly 3,000-square-foot restaurant with 200 seats serves fusion cuisine from the U. S. and Latin America.
Later this year, he intends to open Crew, a hookah lounge in Fells Point. The 1,800-square-foot space is undergoing renovation. His next venture will be a mac and cheese takeout joint in Fells Point called MAC Daddy.
So, what’s the grand plan for all of these ventures?
“I’m just more of a let’s do it, and figure it out later type of person. That attitude has worked for me,” Thomas said.
He said when he starts new ventures, he doesn’t predict if there will be a market for them. He opens businesses that are trendy, and that he would enjoy managing, he said.
“I enjoy [opening restaurants] at this point. I like the creativity aspect of it. I like being around people,” he said. “I like to deliver experiences that people will remember.”
The CIVIL — part sophisticated dine-in restaurant, part sports bar —serves American cuisine, including chicken and waffles, steak and eggs and Buffalo chicken. The 250-seat, 4,000-square-foot eatery is illuminated by chandeliers and dazzling lights, and the walls are painted in subdued shades of white, gold and gray.
The 36-year-old Thomas said he uses his savings and money from his family to open new eateries. He also has a silent partner for The CIVIL and EDR. His father Leanard Thomas is his partner in MAC Daddy and Ivan Baker, owner of Biddy’s TVs, an electronics store in East Baltimore, is his partner for Crew.
The restaurateur is a native of Baltimore’s Park Heights and a 2003 graduate of Randallstown High School. He attended Stevenson University and Morgan State University before graduating from the Paul Mitchell beauty school in Jessup in 2014.
Thomas stands 6′2″ and usually wears a baseball cap; his phone buzzes incessantly. Due to a recent burn on his right arm in the kitchen at The CIVIL, his doctor advised rest; yet, he’s currently at work.
He bartends and cooks at The CIVIL on busy nights to keep the restaurant running smoothly. Jamaal Wilton and Clarence Woodland, both former chefs at The CIVIL, taught him about the restaurant business. He also hired managers who have restaurant experience.
Being present, he added, is a key to success, and his businesses succeed as a result of his involvement.
“If you want [things] done the way you want them done, you have to show people firsthand how you want them done,” he said.
As he expands, he plans to hire workers who are capable of performing their duties autonomously, so he won’t have to play so many positions at his businesses.
The CIVIL doesn’t have a unique meaning behind its name or unusual capitalization, nor does it relate to its food.
“I just liked how the words looked aesthetically in print,” he said.
Moriah Smalls, who frequents The CIVIL, said she likes the live bands that play R&B and hip hop on Fridays and Mondays. On Saturdays, a DJ plays such music as well.
“I enjoy that I can go there to watch major sporting events, especially when it comes to supporting a boxing fight,” she said. “I enjoy that they tend to take customer feedback seriously. If I have an issue with any of my food, whether it’s in person or through DoorDash, I can always give them a call and explain the issue.”
Smalls cited the Strawberry Peach Hennessy as her preferred drink at The CIVIL. She also likes the cocktails given pandemic names, such as the COVID-19.
Thomas said the CIVIL was able to survive the pandemic — in part — because of the COVID-19 cocktail. People lined up for the popular mix that includes tequila, rum, gin, vodka, pineapple juice and Blue Curaçao.
“I want to be remembered [as someone who provided] great experiences, regardless of the venue,” he said.
Shay Wainwright, Thomas’ operations manager, said he is authentic.
“He is a client who became my friend, and a friend who became my family,” she said. “He’s very selfless. Once you get to know him, it’s like he’s contagious.”
The CIVIL encounters racial hurdles, as other minority-owned businesses in Baltimore have, even as its clientele grows. Anonymous hate mail is frequently sent to the eatery accusing Thomas, a Black man, of trying to take over Mount Vernon, he said.
But that doesn’t bother him.
“I feel like there’s always gonna be somebody that says something or somebody that doesn’t like what you’re doing,” Thomas said. “I feel like those energies and those attitudes just make me wanna keep doing what I’m doing.”
This article is part of our Newsmaker series, which profiles notable people in the Baltimore region who are having an impact in our diverse communities. If you’d like to suggest someone who should be profiled, please send their name and a short description of what they are doing to make a difference to: Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Editor Kamau High at firstname.lastname@example.org.
An earlier version of this story misspelled the restaurant MAC Daddy’s name. The Baltimore Sun regrets the error.